All the birds have flown away. The dogs in the village are showing signs of distress. The beach is eerily quiet.
This scene was taking place on Dec. 26, 2004 in many coastal habitats across the Indian ocean. Some time later the 3rd largest earthquake on record broke out in Indonesia. Following the earthquake, killer waves radiating from the epicentre slammed into the coastlines of 11 countries, causing massive damages from east Africa to Thailand.
The world communicates with us through our senses.
Our perception of life is based on what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch. These senses help us navigate through life and create experiences which shape who we are, forming our concept of Self.
Other than the traditional five senses, humans have multiple other senses which are less talked about. Some of these additional senses include: ability to sense pain; sense of balance and orientation; sense of time; Ability to sense changes in temperature; and a sense of direction.
Is there something beyond these known sense perceptions? A hidden part of ourselves which can help us grow as individuals.
SENSE AND SENSITIVITY
All across time, humans have relied on their senses to survive and thrive in the natural world. Trackers and indigenous tribes still use techniques that have been honed over centuries. For example, a small group of native American Indians known as ‘Shadow Wolves’ work on the US-Mexico border and use their skills to catch illegal drug traffickers.
In the modern age, our connection with the natural world has reduced drastically. Majority of our time is spent indoors and increasingly in front of screens. It is changing how we use and develop our senses. The two major outcomes are underutilisation of certain senses and a sensory overload of others.
Sensory overload occurs due to multiple reasons like city noise, overuse of electronic media, unhealthy diet and habits, etc. It impacts our mind and body and has a big effect on how we react to life or learn from it. Aggression, addiction, impulsivity, loneliness, stress are all linked intricately to our sense stimulation or lack of it.
Reconnecting with nature is a great antidote for restoring our wavering attention and rebalancing our emotions. Ample research findings now point to the various health benefits of spending time outdoors. However, at the edge of science lies one of the greatest gifts that nature has bestowed upon all living creatures in varying degrees.
THE SIXTH SENSE
Science is interested in the diversity of life. And intuition is much more aware of the unity of life.~ Joseph Bharat Cornell. Author of Sharing Nature.
The sixth sense is generally used as a metaphor for sensing something beyond our known physical senses. In the dictionary – ‘intuition’ is defined as a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.
However a simpler and more relevant understanding of this term is linked to heightened awareness. Awareness of the self, of others around us and of the environment we live in.
A classic example comes from the many reports of certain animals and birds behaving radically, much before a natural disaster like an earthquake or a tsunami strikes. This reaction is attributed to the greater development of their senses which allows them to perceive subtle changes in nature.
People may have different interpretations for the sixth sense, but ultimately it is the ability to feel rather than think. So it is more about sensitivity rather than some special sense. By working on our own senses we can sharpen our awareness levels to be conscious of our own feelings in the present moment and make wiser choices for our future.
Here are some exercises to sharpen your sense experiences. Try them out in a natural setting, in pairs or small groups.
Sensing the forest: Before you start the walk, stand in silence and pay attention to your senses individually for a minute each. Observe your surroundings with intention and take in the various sights colours and patterns. Move on to hearing attentively. Close your eyes and listen to all the sounds around you for a minute. Then focus on your breath and try to notice the smell of the forest. Finally, feel the earth beneath your feet and be aware of the sun and wind on your skin.
During the walk, move slowly and in silence. Find an appropriate place in nature to pause and try out one of the exercises given below. Share your insights with each other before resuming the walk and then repeat the process with another sense.
Eyes: Take time to identify at-least 5 different colours present in your surrounding. Pay attention to each colour separately and as you spend some time with a particular colour notice how it makes you feel.
Ears: Keep your eyes closed and gradually rotate yourself in a circle to capture sounds coming from different parts of the environment. Feel the mood of the forest, from the sounds you hear. Try making fox ears: By cupping your hands behind your ears you can capture more of the sound waves. Notice the difference in sound with and without the fox ears.
Touch: Find a unique tree and feel it with your hands to memorise it’s shape, texture and contours. Then have your partner blindfold you and lead you to different trees to see whether you can recognise your tree with just the memory of your touch.
Nose: The sense of smell is our oldest sense. For this exercise, collect leaves or flowers from different plants around you. Choose any one and memorise it’s smell by keeping it close to your nose for a few seconds. Place it back in a disordered pile with other leaves and flowers. With your eyes closed, use your nose to pick out your chosen object.
Taste: Carry a fruit with you on your walk. Find a scenic spot to sit quietly and eat the fruit slowly. The aim is to create a memory of the experience. Notice the affect of the ambience on the taste of the fruit.
Working on our senses opens the doors to having a richer experience of life and more importantly fosters a feeling of being alive.
Some More Sense Exercises
Sense Multiplier: Each person experiences the forest differently. By sharing our senses with others, we have the ability to enhance our perception of the forest. The group stands in a circle and each person pays attention to one thing in nature that is bringing them calm. After a minute of silence, any one person shares what they became aware of. The rest of the members spend the next minute noticing and sensing what is mentioned. The exercise continues till each member of the group has shared their sense experience.
As A Leaf: Notice the movement of air around you. Even when we are not in the forest, there is always the presence of some wind, which serves as a gentle reminder of nature around us. For this exercise, imagine you are a tiny leaf. Notice the smallest sensation of wind on your skin, especially your hands. Gently sway your body to the rhythm of the air around you. *Exercise contributed by Nilanjana, a psychology student and a trained outdoor educator.
Walking With Your Ears: Find a safe path or trail in the forest. Divide into pairs. One person in the pair becomes the leader and the other the follower. The follower will keep their eyes closed and simply follow the directions given by their partner. The leader can hold the hands of the follower to make this a little easier. Leaders can also describe the surroundings to their followers, to create a mental image for them. Switch roles within the pairs after 5 minutes. Share the experiences you had – as a leader and as a follower. *Exercise contributed by Mav Rebhl, a wandering do-gooder from Bali, Indonesia
My Nature Home: Every person has a nature place that is special to them. Find a quiet spot to sit. Breathe gently and keep your spine straight and relaxed. Close your eyes and remember your special place in nature. Slowly strengthen you memory by adding in details. In your mind, what do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Stay with the emotions that come up. You can return to this memory anytime you feel.
Barefoot Walking: Walking barefoot in nature is known as grounding or earthing. It is becoming very popular because of the surprisingly large number of reports of multiple health benefits. While researchers and scientist study the phenomenon, we can simply enjoy the touch of mother earth under our feet. Walk slowly and mindfully. Different textures of grass, mud, pebbles, sand will send different sensations to your brain. This is one of the most popular and calming experiences on most healing forest walks. So do try it out whenever the place and weather allows it.
We hope this article has given you some interesting ideas to think about. Our intuition says that the next time you are in nature and pay attention to your senses, you will discover something new about yourself.
*This page is part of our nature healing program. You can find the next section of our course at this link.
Bonus: Here’s a link to download a set of 5 waterfall gifs. You can use them to attract more people to your walks, or simply meditate on them. http://bit.ly/hfl-falls
END NOTE: If you have any other sense exercises to share, please add them in the comments section to grow our collective learning. The Earth needs more sensitivity from humans so that we can hear what it is saying and take actions to shape where we are going.
You can subscribe to our monthly blog posts here. We are a small group of friends trying to find new ways to reconnect people with nature. Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal.